NWTC dental clinic provides care to low-income clients

June 17, 2013

From greenbaypressgazette.com: “Oral health impact is far-reaching” — Brown County 20/20 participants agreed that the community should have “a culture of health and wellness — in mind, body and spirit — that has minimized reliance on the medical system and exceeds the experience of any other comparable city in the Great Lakes region.”

Studies have shown that there is a relationship between oral health and improved outcomes for diabetes and pregnancy and to improved nutrition. There is a connection between oral health and other diseases as well. There can even be an impact on employability. Thus, oral health has an important role in achieving the 20/20 vision.

However, accessing preventive or restorative dental services can be a challenge for low income or Medicaid recipients. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports that just over 20 percent of Brown County Medicaid members received a dental service in 2008, down from 24 percent in 2004.

There are many reasons for this. Medicaid reimburses dentists roughly 30 percent or less for Medicaid recipients’ services. Issues with transportation or child care can lead to a higher-than-average no-show rate for these patients, making it difficult for dental offices to manage schedules and remain efficient.

Dental care for the low income and uninsured is fragmented. Finding services for adults can be especially challenging. There are services for veterans, the developmentally disabled and AIDS patients, but many private providers find it financially untenable to accept Medicaid patients.

To begin to solve this problem, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in 2008 began a small dental clinic, using grant funding from U.S. Oil and the Brown Door Kewaunee Dental Society. Planners quickly learned that the need was far greater than anyone had anticipated. They also learned that logistically, NWTC was a good fit for a clinic operation, as dental hygiene and dental assistant students were able to provide needed services while gaining valuable experience.

Administering the program was better left to a community partner, so NEW Community Clinic and NWTC developed a collaboration whereby NEW clinic became the administrator. It was also clear that without charitable support, it would not be financially feasible to provide services for the same reasons private providers were challenged — reimbursement of less than 30 percent of charges made it impossible to be self-supporting. The college and the clinic also saw that the long-term need was to provide a six-chair dental clinic.

In 2012, a community health needs assessment was conducted by the Brown County and De Pere health departments, Bellin Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center and St. Vincent Hospital. Oral health was identified as one of the top three community health issues, and St Mary’s/St Vincent was asked to lead a community action group. This provided a forum for NWTC, NEW Clinic and St. Mary’s/St. Vincent to discuss adult restorative services and to see if together, they could provide a six-chair clinic.

As a result of these discussions, St. Mary’s and St. Vincent provided the dollars to purchase equipment to outfit the clinic in space donated by NWTC. The equipment was installed in February. NEW Community Clinic was named a Federally Qualified Health Center during 2012, enabling it to be reimbursed at cost for seeing Medicaid patients.

Thus, a dental clinic for Medicaid and uninsured patients opened this spring with a dentist on staff. Knowing that the need can far exceed the resources available, the clinic’s focus will be on addressing acute dental pain, and secondarily on treating diabetics and pregnant women because of the connection to improved health status.

Now, as many as 6,000 patients will be able to have dental visits over the course of a year, providing them with a community resource, where before hospital emergency departments were one of their only options.

How to help

Tax-deductible donations to support the operation of the dental clinic can be sent to the NEW Community Clinic at 633 Bodart St., Green Bay.




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